Who do you trust?
Trust is essential to any venture. If we hire a contractor to work on the house, we have to trust that they’ll show up. If we donate funds to a charity, we’re trusting that they’ll use the funds for the cause we’re trying to support. If we say “I do” at the altar, we’re trusting that our partner doesn’t have their fingers crossed.
Some years ago I was working with a pretty close group – at least, I believed we were pretty close. But it turned out that some of the group had received a job offer from a competitor who wanted a slice of our business. When those folks left, they a hole – in the team they left behind, in our business, and in our personal relationships. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them as well. Business is business, but personal relationships can hurt.
Experiences like this raise a question: how do we decide who to trust, and how much to trust them? Some researchers examined this question by surveying over 12,000 respondents and came up with “The Trust Equation.”
The Trust Equation is simple: Credibility plus Reliability plus Intimicy divided by Self-Centeredness equal Trustworthiness.
Source: The Trusted Advisor
Credibility is pretty straightforward. Do we know what we’re talking about, or do we blow smoke and filibuster? Is what we *say* likely to be complete and accurate? Reliability is also fairly simple: will we *do* what we say we will do? Do we show up on time, prepared for the next step. Intimacy is a little more complex. It’s emotional. It measures how much we *care* about the person we’re working with. The equation’s numerator covers these three things: what we say, what we do, and whether we care. These all contribute positively to trust.
But underlying this is whether we care more about ourselves than we do about our partners. Excessive self-orientation means we get distracted or impatient or we don’t listen. It’s the variable that undermines everything else. We may be experts and ahead of schedule and folks know we’re committed. But if we just do it for ourselves, the rest doesn’t matter. Folks don’t care how much we know unless they know that they’re the priority.
People can learn to be trustworthy, and institutions can be trustworthy as well. Businesses and other organizations can build trust by having the right incentives and structures in place so that trust grows over time. Trust does grow little by little, with small transactions that reinforce each factor in the Trust Equation. But it takes time. The Roman philosopher Seneca noted this when he observed:
“Increase is of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”
Illustration: Ugo Bardi. Source: “The Oil Drum.” CC BY-SA 3.0
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